We’ve all experienced debate rounds where we feel like we’re losing before the timer even starts. Maybe it’s because we feel unprepared or you’re hitting the champions of the previous tournament. I propose that this feeling is 100% preventable. Below are 5 tips and habits that debaters should develop in order to feel confident and prepared, rather than helpless and resigned. Win rounds before they begin by preparing yourself and developing healthy, productive habits.
1. Make goals for yourself.
What do you want to accomplish during this debate season? By your senior year? Make goals for yourself, both short-term and long-term. These goals should be easy to quantify. You won’t be able to meet the goal of “never lose a debate round ever,” or “be better at debate.” Make them measurable.
For debaters in parliamentary or policy debate, make a separate set of goals with your debate partner. Revisit them throughout the season, adjust them, and celebrate when you fulfill them!
2. Establish an internal locus of control.
There are a lot of variables when it comes to competitive debate. You can’t control who your judge is or the teams you hit. In parliamentary debate, you can’t even control what topics you’ll discuss! It can be easy to “externalize” your losses onto one of these variables. However, I’d encourage you to establish an internal locus of control rather than an external locus of control.
An internal locus of control means you acknowledge that there are some things that you simply can’t affect, and that is okay. You don’t waste your time and energy worrying about those things. Instead, you focus on the immediate things that are within your control.
You alone can control how hard you work. If you constantly find yourself making excuses for things that you personally are responsible for, you’ll find yourself feeling exhausted, stressed, overworked and burnt out. Focusing inwardly allows you to feel strong and prepared.
3. Vow to never lose to the same argument twice.
Every loss is an opportunity to learn. Make a promise to yourself to never lose to the same argument twice. The best way to do this is:
a) Ask your judges for ways to improve your strategy in the future. If they’re willing to answer your questions, this information can inform a better strategy that will win you rounds. If they don't feel comfortable with this, review the ballot after the round and take excellent notes on them. Ask your partner or friends that watched the round what they think you could have done better.
b) Write multiple strategies and practice them. Identify what resonated with your judges—what was the strongest part of their argument? Then, write answers to that core piece of their strategy.
4. Memorize, memorize, memorize.
This is especially important for parliamentary debate, but any debater can benefit from developing this habit. Debate rounds are won by the debaters who retain the most knowledge. You need to know more about your case than the Negative team, so memorize as many things about your case as you can. Likewise, having generic Negative strategies memorized ensures you always have something in your back pocket when those panic button rounds occur.
5. Never stop learning.
Finally, be ready and willing to constantly learn new things. Critical thinking is one of the major advantages that participation in debate provides. Staying informed in domestic politics and international relations helps inform that critical thinking and puts you ahead of your opponents. Instead of listening to music on your commute, listen to some news podcasts. The Week Ahead, Up First, and the GPS podcast are excellent resources.
As you learn more, you may have ideas for new debate arguments. Always be thinking of new arguments. Innovate! Create! Never stop learning new things and don’t mark anything as off-limits. Debate changes constantly; don’t be afraid of new debate concepts or styles. Instead, take them on and get ahead of the curve. Education is the ultimate goal of competitive debate. Do yourself a favor and gain as much of it as you possibly can.